‘Empire’s’ Jussie Smollett opens up about sexuality with Ellen DeGeneres
“Empire” actor Jussie Smollett cleared up a few questions about his sexuality on Monday.
The 31-year-old star, who plays gay singer-songwriter Jamal Lyon on Fox’s breakout hit series, addressed the topic during a backstage chat with Ellen DeGeneres after taping his Monday appearance on “The Ellen DeGenenes Show.”
Smollett didn’t label himself as gay or bisexual specifically, nor did he say that he was coming out. Instead, he picked apart the phrase “coming out of the closet” and its implications, speaking about the topic in a roundabout way during the clip that was simply titled “Jussie Smollett Talks to Ellen From the Heart.”
The indie artist-turned-actor, who knocked on the talk show host’s door to initiate the conversation after the taping, said he was inspired by DeGeneres’ work in the LGBT community and equated it to what pop icon Michael Jackson “did with the black community.”
“You are who you are -- and he was just Michael and you’re just Ellen -- so it was really important to me to make sure that it got across that there is no closet, there’s never been a closet that I’ve been in,” he said backstage.
“I don’t own a closet, I got a dresser, but I don’t have a closet, but I have a home and that is my responsibility to protect that home,” he continued. “So that’s why I choose not to talk about my personal life, but there is without a doubt no closet that I’ve ever been in.”
Smollett scored the part of Jamal by direct messaging “Empire” co-creator Lee Daniels on Instagram and persevering through seven auditions. He portrayed his character’s coming out on the hip-hop drama -- also vague at first, then very direct in a later episode -- and discussed the “ignorant” feedback he occasionally receives on social media.
“You cannot allow people to spew hate and be OK,” he said during the “Ellen” broadcast taping. “As tenants of this earth it’s our job to make a difference and make the world better, and we can’t just sit around and let people spew nasty things and just think that that’s OK. It’s not OK. “
During his backstage chat, though, DeGeneres brought up that “people are still questioning is he, isn’t he?” then segued into Smollett’s personal life.
“I think the most important thing is talent,” she said. “The most important thing is what we do. We don’t want anything to get in the way of that, but there are questions out there and I think that’s why it was my responsibility to at least just give you the opportunity [to talk about it], and I am so proud of you that you say there is no closet, there never has been a closet. You’ve never pretended to be anything that you aren’t.”
“Ever,” Smollett continued. “So let’s not read into it in the wrong way when I say that I don’t talk about my personal life. I’m saying that, but it is in no way to hide or deny who God made me. My mama knows. My mama likes me a lot and, yes, I take her to ‘The Sound of Music’ singalong every single year.”
Follow me on Twitter @NardineSaad.
Inside the business of entertainment
The Wide Shot brings you news, analysis and insights on everything from streaming wars to production — and what it all means for the future.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.